Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion tabled by my colleague, the member for Brossard—La Prairie, as well as the amendment by the member for Saint-Lambert, and the subamendment by the member for Sault Ste. Marie.
I believe it is important to stress the seriousness of the negative financial consequences the passage of this motion, including its amendments, would have on the organization and financial structure of Passport Canada.
As we know, over the past two years an enormous number of Canadians have obtained passports. They numbered 3.6 million for the 2006-07 fiscal year, and over 4.8 million for the following fiscal year. Clearly, over 53% of Canadians have a valid passport. This is a direct result of the American government's implementation of the western hemisphere travel initiative, or WHTI.
When our government was elected in January 2006, our Prime Minister made a commitment to improve the passport issuance process and to make it easier for Canadians to access passport services, regardless of where they live. That is what we have been doing for the past three years.
For example, we adopted two new initiatives, simplified renewal and a new guarantor policy. The adoption of these policies has simplified the application process and sped up processing times. Next, we sought to make it easier to access passport services, substantially increasing the number of service points for Canadians.
Through the receiving agents program, we now have 231 service points compared with only 30 in 2003. I would like to point out to my colleagues in the House that our government has been very proactive with respect to the receiving agent file.
I am amused that my colleague from Brossard—La Prairie is demanding the expansion of the receiving agents, although we know very well that while her party was in power, it did nothing substantial to improve service to citizens.
Our government has been very proactive on this file. Today, over 95% of applicants live within a 50 kilometre radius of a service point. I would also like to inform the House that the receiving agents process about 7% of the total volume of passport applications. Of the 198 receiving agents in the country, 141 are Service Canada offices and 57 are Canada Post outlets.
However, close analysis of the motion tabled by the member for Brossard—La Prairie reveals a problem. The motion stipulates that all of Service Canada's regional offices should provide full passport services.
My colleagues are no doubt aware that Passport Canada is a self-financing agency, and as such must exercise great care in managing its finances. Passport Canada receives only $62 for each adult passport application for an adult living in Canada and $22 for children under the age of three. These fees are some of the lowest in the world and our processing times are among the shortest.
I would like to share a few facts in this regard with my hon. colleagues. Passport Canada's financial analysts have estimated that if receiving agent and citizenship validation services were to be offered at all Service Canada offices, it would cost at least $13.5 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year and $10 million for the subsequent four years. That means that for the first five years of this program, it would cost at least $56.2 million for a volume of some 500,000 applications.
The cost of implementing this motion by the member for Brossard—La Prairie, which would increase the number of passport offices from 33 to 320, would be exorbitant. If it currently costs $56.2 million over five years for improved receiving agent services, I do not even dare calculate the cost for these 320 offices that would provide the full range of passport services, from receipt of the application to the printing of the passport.
In 2010, Passport Canada will open a new office in Kelowna, which, according to preliminary estimates, will cost about $1.5 million. If we were to multiply this figure by 320, I think we would see the problem.
Not only would passing this motion, including as amended, be problematic in terms of Passport Canada's finances, I would like to add a few points regarding the cost of providing additional security.
All travel documents issued by Passport Canada must satisfy very strict international rules. These rules are dictated by international organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization which reports to the United Nations. They involve factors such as format, security and issuance. In order for Service Canada to be able to provide full passport service from receipt of the application to issuance, the infrastructure for Service Canada offices would have to be adapted.
Passport Canada's financial analysts have estimated that providing this increased security for a small office, just for one small office, would require an investment of between $1.4 million and $4 million. If we were to go ahead with this proposal, Passport Canada would have to invest several hundreds of millions of dollars just to ensure the security of Service Canada offices. Such a situation would threaten Passport Canada's very survival. Members can imagine the effect this would have on the cost of a passport.
Passport Canada is a serious organization that attaches great importance to client services. Processing times are very fast. This is a well-oiled machine. Passport Canada's regular service time of two weeks is also one of the fastest in the world. Furthermore, Passport Canada is currently able to address the demand for passports and has been operating within its service standards since December 2007.
The Canadian passport has an excellent reputation internationally and Passport Canada's policies are analyzed by numerous countries worldwide. The introduction of an electronic passport with a 10-year validity period is a major project for Passport Canada. It is important that the organization be able to direct its financial resources toward implementing these priorities.
With the coming into force of phase two of the WHTI on June 1, 2009, all Canadians travelling to the United States by land or by sea will be required to present a valid passport. It is important, and even crucial, that Passport Canada and its employees adequately prepare for the new measures that will be introduced shortly by the American government.
Passage of this motion, including as amended, would impose an unreasonable and unnecessary financial burden on the agency in addition to seriously affecting the measures put in place by the agency in preparation for the challenge that lies ahead.
Although this agency experienced a major crisis in 2007, it rose to the occasion. Its employees even won a prestigious public service award in 2008.
In closing, I would like to stress once again that our government supports Passport Canada's efforts and is determined to ensure that funds managed by the Government of Canada are managed responsibly and effectively.